Oct 12, 2023 - News

New movie revisits infamous '88 Chicago bank heist

Courtney B. Vance stands in front of a whiteboard, facing three men and one woman sitting around a wooden table in a basement-like room with packing boxes and a large fan.

Courtney B. Vance plays Jeremy Horne, the mastermind of the heist. Photo: Courtesy of Parrish Lewis/Paramount+ with Showtime

A new film about a famous embezzlement scheme in the 1980s draws on a Chicago writer's memories of the city.

Why it matters: The 1988 multimillion-dollar theft inspired the main plot of the film, but "Heist 88" tells a broader story of young, Black Chicagoans trying to get ahead.

What they're saying: "The '80s was a boom, boom time where a lot of money was being made," screenwriter Dwayne Johnson-Cochran, who grew up in South Shore, tells Axios.

  • "Black and brown people were trying to find a way to just move up."

Details: "Heist 88" stars Courtney B. Vance, who plays the mastermind behind the heist at the former First National Bank of Chicago.

  • It's streaming on Paramount+ and Showtime.

Flashback: Four men, including an employee at the bank, tried to embezzle $70 million from First National and transfer the money into banks in Austria, according to a 1988 Tribune article.

  • The plan was quickly foiled as companies, including United Airlines, noticed the overdrafts in their transaction sheets.
Man sitting  at table in front of two framed images
Dwayne Cochran-Johnson. Photo by Jeffery Fiterman, courtesy of Cochran-Johnson.

Johnson-Cochran knew people at the time who worked at the bank, and he covered the story as a producer at WTTW.

  • He tells Axios he wanted to write the film because he gravitates to stories about "people [who] don't have a lot [and are] trying to achieve more" and those who try to disrupt them.

Of note: Pay attention to the subplot about Chicago as the birthplace of house music, which Johnson-Cochran wanted to include as a nod to his own memories of the scene.


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